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The future of learning in Kalispell Public Schools

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | March 6, 2022 1:00 AM

What does learning look like when it’s personalized for each student?

Does school have to be seven hours a day, five days a week; or can objectives be met at a different pace or schedule? Does learning have to take place within the walls of a classroom?

Should schools be separated by grade levels, or is there flexibility for accelerated learners? Who should drive learning — the student, teacher and student, teacher alone, or do textbooks and curriculum dictate it?

These are some of the questions Kalispell Public Schools will ask as it ventures on a yearslong process with the objective to transform “how school is done.”

“Maybe you don’t have to spend 180 days in a seat to be proficient,” said Kalispell Superintendent Micah Hill. “Not everyone is learning at the same time, same place.”

Helping fund the process are Transformational Learning, Montana Advanced Opportunity and Workforce Development state grants.

According to the Montana Office of Public Instruction, “Transformational Learning is defined as a flexible system of pupil-centered learning that is designed to meet the Montana Constitutional mandate of "fully develop[ing] the educational potential of each person.”

While the questions aren’t revolutionary — and there are plenty of schools statewide and throughout the nation “doing school differently” to glean information from — systematic changes, even at a local level, is a hefty task.

“That’s why my timeline goes out six years,” Hill said. “We’re trying to do more, or better, and what does that look like?”

At the beginning of the process, administrators want people to think big.

“If this was your Disneyland, what would it look like?” is a question he poses to teachers in particular.

In year one, the district will work on defining and sharing a vision through listening and reflecting on ideas from stakeholders.

“From a process standpoint, we want to share the vision of what school can be with stakeholders,” Hill said.

The district will kick off the conversation with the community during listening sessions hosted by elementary and middle school staff March 10 and March 16 to explain the endeavor. Kalispell Assistant Superintendent Matt Jensen said the sessions will be a time for presenters and attendees to share what schools are doing well, what needs work and offer ideas on how to improve the educational process.

While asking people to think big at first, at the end of the day there are constraints.

“I use the analogy of a six-lane highway. There are still guardrails — state standards, rules, laws — but you have ramps, turn lanes, slow lanes and fast lanes, all moving in different directions,” he said.

Tying into the transformational learning project is a five-year strategic planning process currently underway that will serve as a roadmap for improving educational outcomes for students by reviewing the district’s vision, mission/purpose, beliefs and goals. Facilitator Darlene Schottle is compiling feedback from listening sessions held in January and an online survey, which will be presented at a board meeting in the coming months.

Transformational learning listening sessions

March 10

— 6 p.m. at Peterson Elementary, 1119 Second St. W., (Peterson and Elrod schools will present)

March 16

— 5:30 p.m. at Rankin Elementary, 2155 Airport Road, (Rankin and Hedges schools will present).

— 6 p.m. at Edgerton Elementary, 1400 Whitefish Stage Road, (Russell and Edgerton schools will present).

— 6 p.m. at Kalispell Middle School, 205 Northwest Lane.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 406-758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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Instructor Brian Bay helps Glacier High School juniors Hailey Kopchinsky and Preston Richardson as they straighten out a header on the outer frame of their shed at the H.E. Robinson Agricultural Education Center in Kalispell on Wednesday, March 2. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Glacier High School juniors, from left, Kylie Mercer, Gustavo Chace and Boe Tutvedt work on the outer frame of a shed at the H.E. Robinson Agricultural Education Center in Kalispell on Wednesday, March 2. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Instructor Brian Bay gives some advice to Glacier High School juniors Faith Jensen and Rachelle Becker as they work on the outer frame of their shed at the H.E. Robinson Agricultural Education Center in Kalispell on Wednesday, March 2. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Flathead High School senior Wyatt Newsome practices tube-to-plate welding in one of the bays at the H.E. Robinson Agricultural Education Center in Kalispell on Wednesday, March 2. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)